Is your child a high school senior? |

Is your child a high school senior?

Parents and kids alike are entering a whole new world, a world of uncertainty, strange terminology and financial anxiety. It’s no wonder that parents and kids approach college admission with trepidation – they don’t know what they don’t know.

Unfortunately, many parents put undue stress upon themselves and end up with migraines, depression, ulcers and sleepless nights, not to mention the effect the process has on the youngster. In many cases, so much pressure is put on the student that if/when they receive a rejection letter from a college or university, the youngster’s first response is “Oh no, my life is ruined!” Planning for and choosing an institution of higher learning should and can be an enjoyable process for parents and students alike – if it’s put into proper perspective. But too often the parents began their child’s journey into college on the day he or she was born. After all, it’s about that time when parents discover that their child is destined for great things – perhaps the presidency of the United States or even better, Microsoft.

It’s also a time when parents utter such motivating oratory as, “You know, if you devoted just 10 more minutes to your homework every day you could choose any college you want – and possibly get a scholarship!” or “Linda got on A on her test, why can’t you be more like Linda?”

Then of course there’s “college night,” that very special event when everything is supposed to be made clear by a real live admissions counselor who will explain all the ins and outs of college admissions. But parents walk away more puzzled than they were when they entered.

Many parents memorize the College Handbook and then place their energies into their child’s SAT scores. No sooner does the students receive their results than the parents are asking when he or she can retake the test.

So what’s a family to do? While there is no simple formula, there is a systematic approach that will take much of the stress out of the process.

The first thing parents must do is to ascertain if their son or daughter really wants to attend college. Assuming the answer is yes, the next step is to look at the family finances. Are Mom and Dad able foot the entire bill? Will Johnny or Susie contribute? Are student loans necessary? If so, how much? Should Johnny or Susie be expected to work while taking classes full time? Every situation is different, but this is the starting point.

The accepted standard measurement of the cost of a college education includes tuition, room and board, books, fees, spending money and two trips home per year. Most college counselors or college Web sites are great sources for this information.

Many parents ask if it’s worthwhile to hire a private counselor or adviser. This is a tough question to answer because anyone can hang a shingle on his or her door professing to be an expert in college admissions. So beware out there – there are a lot of academes that charge exorbitant fees to do what you can get for free if your child’s school employs a “qualified” college counselor. Just like anything else, college counselors come in all shapes, sizes and competency. So it’s always a good idea to check out references and reputation.

The next step is to visit potential colleges, which should take place sometime late in the junior year or the summer before senior year. When visiting schools, visits should be made to the offices of admissions, financial aid, and placement.

Parents should be mindful that it’s wise to make an application to a “safe” school first, one where the student is reasonably assured of acceptance. This can take a lot of pressure out of the process. Applications are best sent before Thanksgiving of the student’s senior year – the sooner the application is sent, the sooner the student will receive a response. Once applications are sent to “safe” schools, then the student can apply to their “stretch” school.

Upper-tier colleges such as Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, and Duke, etc., all “wait-list.” So if a student is wait listed, he or she should write to the admissions office and let them know that XYZ University is their first choice and why. Perhaps another visit to the campus to speak directly with professors there or the student can ask teachers, coaches or counselors at the high school to write a letter of recommendation.

Somehow, the applicant needs to stand out from the crowd. But that doesn’t mean sending homemade cookies to the dean of admissions. Keep it professional.

There’s a lot going on during this period, and parents must be mindful that their student will actively engage in the process when they are ready to deal with it. Remember, this is all brand new territory for them too.

Yet at the same time parents must also encourage (without badgering) their sons and daughters to put energy into the selection process themselves. The student’s job is to find a comfort zone school – and comfort zone means a school that fits financially, academically and socially.

Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily.

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